I was reading a post recently in Attitude Magazine about the effects of martial arts training on attention disorders. It confirmed what the martial arts world has long been familiar with, that this practice “strengthens neural networks in the brain, and enables ADD/ADHD kids to practice self-control.” But, as the mother of a child with a global learning disability and severe attention deficit, I know the effects of martial arts training can become so much more.
What martial arts training has given my daughter is perspective. Through her years in the Ninja Kids Club, she has started to see herself differently, and for a child struggling to understand her place in the world around her, this is huge.
We started the Ninja Kids Club when Meira was five. Most of our students were her friends from school. And she was our muse -if that mythical creature can be housed in a rough and tumble child whose exuberance is sometimes overwhelming. She had just lost her birth mother the year before. I had adopted her as my own, and this little child was often lost and angry. As she worked to navigate life, we worked to provide her the tools to do so. We knew we wanted the Ninja Kids Club to teach her, and her friends, more than just spatial awareness and coordination. We wanted it to give them that sense of deep purpose that can spur them to take charge of their lives, especially when no other motivation will work.
We knew that if we could create a program that would help Meira discover her own intrinsic motivation, and push herself to be more focused, solid, grounded and in charge or her actions, then we would have created something very special indeed.
So, that became a foundation our program. We put a great emphasis on the importance of having an internal purpose from which you live. We call it the “inner spark”. Meira’s is abundantly clear: she loves animals and wants to live a life as closely connected with nature as possible. In our classes and at home, we’ve helped her see the connection between the tough work of the moment and the power of the inner spark that drives her.
With this in place, everything else is more simple. She knows how important it is to focus on the teacher or her partner in class, because it’s an opportunity to pay attention to another person, to how they move, to what their intentions might be. These skills are invaluable when working with animals, and Meira knows that now. Discipline, self-regulation, focus and respect all come more easily to her now that she is clear on her life’s purpose and is cultivating her deep sense of worth.
Eight years since she began classes, our daughter is a radiant, happy, kind and determined girl on the brink of middle school. Rather than being apprehensive about her teenage years, we are breathing a sigh of relief. She talks to us. She shares with us. She has found her deepest gladness, those joys she is willing to fight for, and she does.
Meira is so much more than ADHD. She’s a martial artist with a profound sense of self and a drive that no diagnosis could ever defeat.